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Shotgun barrel length: does it actually matter?

And if barrel length is important, what would be the right for you? Phil Coley explains

barrels of shotgun

Zolis can be custom-made to your specifications

What’s the ideal shotgun barrel length? In my opinion, the optimum shotgun barrel length for high pheasants is 32″. Anything longer than that simply has no manoeuvrability (read more on the best best loads for high pheasants.)

What are the best barrel lengths for different shooting disciplines? Find out here.

shooting a high pheasant

There is an optimum barrel length and it is important to discover what it is for you.

Balance and pointability

  • The more you increase the shotgun barrel length, the more you add to the front end loading. With over-and-under shotguns, you need to have balance, and the build of the over-and-under enables it to absorb recoil better, so for me the best length of barrel is 30″.
  • For a side-by-side shotgun, 28″ is the perfect length, though a lightweight 30″ can do the job equally well. The shortest length of barrel I’ve seen is 25″, and this certainly has a following, too.

If you want to improve your shooting

  • Those who are serious about improving their shooting and therefore in need of a more pointable gun, should look at one with 32″ barrels, while for those looking to have more of a swoosh to swing through, the 30″ is the gun to go for.
  • If you’re wondering how to improve your shooting then look at the length of shotgun barrel you currently use and analyse it against your percentage hit rate. (Read this advice on removing a barrel dent.)
  • If you are happy with your gun and your technique then there is no cause for a change, but if doubt is creeping in, then you might look to try a slightly longer-barrelled gun. The reason to try a new gun before you commit to buying it is to gauge your shooting with a longer barrel.  There is an optimum length and it is important to discover what it is for you.

Shooting with new confidence

You need to look at both the technical aspects and the actual length of the barrels. Only then can you shoot with real confidence. (Read this useful piece on what you need to know about shotgun barrels.)

Those who are shooting with confidence will shoot with a subconscious reaction to the bird; not a conscious reaction to where they are shooting. As with all shooting, you can only shoot well when you are in the right frame of mind and allowing yourself to shoot in an easy manner. (Read more on how positive thinking affects your shooting.)

end of high birds

The optimum shotgun barrel length for high pheasants is 32″

More on shotgun barrels

  • Shorter barrels can feel ‘flicky’ and unsteady
  • But if a gun barrel is too long, it will feel heavy and cumbersome
  • Re-blueing barrels isn’t recommended by manufacturers. Better to have it done professionally.
  • The earliest gun with a rifled barrel is thought to have been made for the Emperor Maximilian I between 1493 and 1508.
  • Canting shotgun barrels is considered a fault because it’s usually the result of an incorrect stance or gun mount causing the muzzles to come off the line of the bird, usually resulting in a miss.
  • It can take some people quite a long time to move from short to longer barrels, so be prepared to persevere and give the longer gun a fair chance before writing it off as being unsuitable.

This article was originally published in 2014 and has been updated.